THE ENFORCEMENT Directorate has ordered the “provisional” attachment of properties of three prominent Punjab politicians and 10 others in connection with its investigation into money laundering charges linked to Jagdish Singh Bhola, a former DSP of Punjab Police and a prime accused in a drug racket case. The three politicians are former SAD Minister Sarwan Singh Phillaur, who joined Congress before the Assembly election after the Akalis denied him ticket; his son Damanvir Phillaur, a former Akali Dal youth leader; and former Akali Chief Parliamentary Secretary Avinash Chander, who was also denied ticket. But they have not been formally charged by the ED. Among the others are three NRIs.
This is the first time that the ED has moved against politicians in its high-profile drug investigations. The ED’s investigation is linked to a bunch of drug cases dating back to 2013 but separate from a police probe. The ED, along with the income tax department, took up the investigation due to the massive monetary transactions and the alleged involvement of several NRIs in the case. The ED has already filed a number of chargesheets against several accused, including Bhola, the alleged kingpin.
With Monday’s order, over 100 properties worth Rs 182 crores have been attached in this case, including 82 properties worth Rs 120 crores of the six main accused, including Goraya-based businessman Chuni Lal Gaba, last year. Around 50 people have been charge-sheeted in this case till now.
The ED’s investigations into the role of politicians began in 2013 after Bhola’s arrest. He had named Damanvir Phillaur as the person, who allegedly introduced a Delhi-based synthetic drugs supplier to Gaba, who had a pharma factory at Baddi in Himachal Pradesh. Gaba and his son were arrested from Patiala in February 2014.
Phillaur, his son and Avinash Chander, were summoned to the ED office several times since 2014 and quizzed for several hours. Avinash’s brother was also questioned. Congress MP Chaudhary Santokh Singh of Jalandhar and former Punjab Minister Bikram Singh Majithia, who was also named by Bhola, were questioned but no action has been taken against them.
SAD had denied both Phillaur and Avinash a ticket to contest the Assembly election. While the Congress accepted Phillaur amid great fanfare, the party did not give him a ticket because of the outcry within against fielding a former Akali, who was being investigated for drugs, as a candidate.
But, the police have not named Phillaur and Chander in their investigation into the same cases. On the plea of several of those booked by police, the Punjab and Haryana High Court had ordered the setting up of a Special Investigation Team to re-investigate 10 main drug cases linked to Bhola. The SIT has submitted status reports of re-investigations to the court. According to a member of SIT, Phillaur and Chander “do not figure as accused in any of the cases it re-investigated”.
The properties of the 13 people that are to be attached under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act include agricultural land, houses, SCOs, showrooms, firms, FDRs and high-end luxury cars. According to the ED, properties of Phillaur and his son are worth Rs 4.86 crore, while Avinash’s property is worth Rs 55.45 lakh.
The others whose properties are being attached include three Canada-based NRIs Avtar Singh Tari, whose property is worth Rs 51.1 lakh and Sukhraj Singh, Jaswinder Singh, whose properties are worth Rs 16.65 lakh, Amritsar-based businessman Jagjit Singh Chahal and his two family members worth Rs 54.59 crore, Una-based businessman Devinder Kumar Sharma, Goraya (Jalandhar)-based Chuni Lal Gaba, Harpreet Singh of Patiala and Sachin Sardana of Delhi.